It's early afternoon but already a long day for him. Still answering/graffiti-ing questions, he's a bit somnolent in the limo, where I'm having trouble with my tape recorder, hitting PLAY instead of RECORD, his perfectly audible whispered voice from the museum filling the drive down Fifth Avenue. And I realize: That vibrancy I kept sensing in his books and films is exactly this, exactly what they can't teach in schools—a voice that's unmistakably his regardless of the current collaborator or medium. I've gone from asking why Franco does so many things and what they are exactly to wondering how does he fucking stay awake?
Sometimes he doesn't. "We were at the end of a 17-hour day on Oz," says Mila Kunis, who plays one of three witches Franco encounters, "doing this carriage scene, with real horses. The set was so long they couldn't turn the horses, so we'd just leave the set, circle, and reshoot. James just fell dead asleep after a take. I mean, nothing I could do would wake him up. We came around for a take, everybody saw, and they just kept the cameras rolling."
For a second, I think he's nodded off in the limo. In fact, a particular question has put him deep in thought: The cliché/bumper sticker "Success is a journey, not a destination" had plagued my mind while screening/reading his work. Googling it, I'd come across a sermon from an evangelical minister: "When God calls you to something, he is not always calling you to succeed. He's calling you to obey! The success is . . . up to Him; the obedience is up to you."
"I totally agree!" says Franco, his eyes lighting up. "All you have is what you work on and how hard you work on it. As far as the results or the reception, it's out of your hands. That's something I really had to come to understand."
The limo pulls up at Soho House, and Franco really wants to put it all together for me. But nothing's simple with him. "There is this thing Sean Penn told me once," he begins. "It's from some race-car movie. There's this Italian character, and the first thing he does when he gets in is he pulls off the rearview mirror and throws it out the window. The other guy goes, 'What are you doing?' And the first guy goes"—Franco's voice lowers—"'Where we're going, we don't need to look behind . . .'"
His voice returns to normal as he smiles at me to conclude the line. "'Ever.'"